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Culture

Germany Gets Serious about "Cool" Image

An earnest project aided by marketing and branding experts is underway in London to jazz up Germany’s humorless and stereotypically staid image in Great Britain as reflected in a recent survey.

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Ever heard of the love parade?

It’s no secret that Germany’s image in Britain is in bad shape.

Whether it’s the tabloids taking a gibe with headlines like "Herr we go – bring on the Krauts" or "Let’s Blitz Fritz" when England was pitted against Germany in the 1996 European Soccer championships, weekly television documentaries on Hitler and concentration camps or papers such as The Independent concluding recently that books with swastikas gracing the cover are guaranteed to be bestsellers, the British are still fed cliché-heavy doses of Germany’s past.

The only other strong connection most British citizens have to the Germans are parked in their garages: German cars have a brilliant reputation and reinforce the image of their makers as being reliable, punctual and efficient.

Clueless about modern Germany

Little wonder then that a recent survey conducted by the Goethe Institut, the German language and cultural center, and the British Council turned out such negative results. The poll, which quizzed young people between 16 and 25 years on their picture of modern Germany, drew up mostly question marks.

Although 37 percent of the British displayed a positive stance towards Germany, they could only come up with beer and sport as the two things they identified with the country. Another 17 percent said they didn’t like Germany and cited its military past, far-right tendencies and the apparent lack of manners and humor of the Germans as reasons. An astonishing 64 percent couldn’t name a single living famous German personality (Supermodel Claudia Schiffer was mentioned a few times).

Another larger survey conducted for the Goethe Institut last year concluded that more than half the British population – 52 percent – said they didn’t have a clue about modern day Germany.

More than Hitler and Nazi past

Alarmed by the unpopularity of its country and the widespread ignorance about it in Britain, the Goethe Institut in London launched a campaign last year in British schools to promote itself as a fun-loving, cool nation.

"English students think the Hitler theme with its smart uniforms and all is sexy," head of the London Goethe Institut Dr. Ulrich Sacker told Deutsche Welle. "Teachers have told me that it’s much easier to sell Hitler than say environmental consciousness. But what do you expect? Every evening there’s at least one film on World War II on British television."

Sacker says there’s just no information on German cultural and social life in Britain. "People just do not know about the other side, the more contemporary Germany, the hedonistic side, the traveling spirit of the Germans."

Cool Britannia German style

Sacker now wants to bring contemporary Germany to a larger British audience. The Goethe Institut London has teamed up with a host of other organizations promoting German-British relations and founded a new initiative "Creative Capital Foundation" to shape a new modern image of Germany.

To start with, the foundation invited a slew of British travel journalists to the Goethe Institut earlier this week to expand their minds on the charms of the western German state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) along the river Rhine. "Tourism is an important part of the process, the British usually never travel to Germany, but prefer to go south," Dr. Sacker explains. "Berlin was a focus last year, this time it’s NRW, and in 2005 it’ll be Saxony," Sacker adds.

The foundation also organized a "British-German Media Bash" this week where German and British journalists, marketing and branding experts, thrashed out the role that politics, celebrities, media and advertising could play in spiking up Germany’s dull image.

Make love not war

Sacker opened the day-long seminar by showing two photographs of Berlin’s famous Victory Column. One from 1945 showed the monument surrounded by tanks and ruins, the other from the 1990s showed dancing revelers at the annual Love Parade, the world’s largest techno party.

"The British only know the war picture," Sacker was quoted in the Berliner Zeitung. "But they should get to know the Berlin of love," he added.

Sacker described the initiative -- modeled along the lines of Cool Britannia, a campaign promoted by Tony Blair in the 1990s to liven up Britain’s stuffy image from an old-fashioned nation of tweed- jacket-wearers to Britpop and Britart – as a "brainstorming session."

"There were some interesting suggestions, but we’ve decided not to market Germany as a brand. It would only reduce the strong image that already exists about the country," he says. "Instead we’re going to focus on adding interesting facets and snippets like the Love Parade, contemporary fashion, cuisine and Karneval – that’s the only way to get the British interested."

There’s no time frame as yet for when all the recommendations and brainstorming for spiffing up Germany’s reputation will translate into action. There’s talk of "strategy" and "high-quality projects." But Sacker says "the important thing is that none of the end projects will have a moral finger teaching the British about Germany. Instead they’ll all be infused with humor and irony."

So watch out Britannia, Germany is rolling up its sleeves and heading your way with a serious charm offensive.

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